Top 5 Gateway Anime Series for People Who’ve Never Watched Anime (RMR Turns 5, Part 1 of 6)

Editor’s Note: Hey. You there. Yes you. I’ve got some news. Lean in a little closer. Closer. Just a little more. IT’S OUR BIRTHDAY!!!

Yes avid Red Mango Reader or newcomer, on Monday May 17 Red Mango Reviews celebrated its fifth anniversary. We are ready for primary school, or the non-Commonwealth equivalent. In celebration of this milestone we’ve implemented several new things, including a new look (hope you like it), bringing on former guest writer Wayne Rock as our new featured writer, and six days of Top 5 Articles. This is the first of the six articles, and it is fittingly by the newest kid on the block. Take it away Wayne!

Wayne Rock, Anime Head Writer

So, you’ve been hearing about this “anime” thing all around and you’re wondering if you should start watching. Hold up. What? There’s over 11,000 anime?! Where do I even start? What about this Netflix Castlevania thing? Is that an anime? (it isn’t). What is isekai and why is it so popular? What’s this hentai thing? Well, before you end up having to gouge out your eyes because you see another use for octopus tentacles, Uncle Wayne-sama has got you covered.

Here are my top 5 picks for gateway anime to get you started on your journey so you can become a bonafide weeb (person obsessed with anime and Japanese culture) in no time!

5. Death Note

So many people to kill, so little time

The thing most people don’t mention about Death Note is that it’s basically your standard young teen boy battle anime (known as “shonen” in the fandom) in different packaging. Our protagonist Light Yagami is a hyper-intelligent but regular Japanese student who stumbles across an unassuming notebook simply labelled the Death Note. Pretty soon he discovers that this book possesses the power to kill those whose names are written in its pages. Light decides that he will use it to become a god in the new world he creates by eradicating all criminals from earth. Obviously, this doesn’t go unnoticed by the law, and they enlist the help of a genius detective, L, to find this mysterious killer. L and Light become embroiled in an epic game of cat and mouse as they both try to outwit each other, while forging a rather close bond.

Now, I’m being intentionally vague here, because this is a series you should really experience knowing as little about as possible. The story goes in directions you never see coming and there are twists and turns that you cannot anticipate that will leave your jaw on the floor. The animation in this series is phenomenal, and while it never reaches the heights of Takeshi Obata’s original artwork in the manga (comic version), its use of colour and lighting conveys the dark, tense, sinister atmosphere perfectly. There is so much to love here, from the dialogue to the soundtrack (oh my GOD the soundtrack) to the pacing to the character interactions, that there’s no doubt this will be revisited even after you’ve moved on to other anime.

4. Erased

No time for frivolities! There are lives to be saved!

Unlike the other entries on this list that are mostly about young boys yelling and trying to punch each other in the face Erased is a compelling mystery disguised as an anime, which makes it a perfect entry point for those who are put off by regular shonen. Satoru Fujinuma is a lonely young man who has the ability to rewind time to just before life-threatening events to allow him the opportunity to save lives. Now this set -up is already captivating enough for an entire series run, but Erased takes it a step further. After Satoru’s mother is murdered his power sends him 18 years into the past, stranding him in his 11-year-old body and allowing him the opportunity to not only save his mother’s life, but the lives of three of his childhood friends.

What Erased lacks in action it more than makes up for with its engaging, over-arching mystery and rich character development. The animation is top-notch as well. I will say, the final reveal isn’t all that great given all the build-up, but Erased is one that is all about the journey, not the destination.

3. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

DUDE! You can’t just go about destroying the street like that. Think about the cars and the pedestrians. And the children. What about the children?!

Full disclosure—this is my favourite anime of all time and I could talk about it for hours. However, I will try my very best to keep it concise. At only 15 years old Edward Elric is one of the most powerful State Alchemists and is given the nickname Fullmetal because of his metal arm (he has a metal leg too). We see him travelling the world with his younger brother (who we find out later is a sentient suit of armor) and seeking a solution to reunite his brother’s soul with his body. What follows is a rich story filled with action, political intrigue, and social and economic discord, all delivered with character-driven storylines. When I started this anime, I really wasn’t expecting such a powerful story, nor one that reduced me to tears several times along the way.

One of FMA’s strengths is that it really gets you to care about the individual characters and their journeys. Even in this fantastical world where people can basically do magic, the scenarios and characters feel so real, which makes you heavily emotionally invested. The animation is amazing, especially when it comes to the gorgeous fight scenes, which run the gamut from hard-hitting hand-to-hand combat all the way to characters throwing blasts and objects at each other while dodging around arenas. Like I said, I could go on and on, but you really owe it to yourself to check this one out.

2. Naruto

He’s gonna be the very best (ninja) like no (ninja) ever was!

I can’t in good conscience make this list without including the anime that got me into anime. Naruto tells the story of a young, loud-mouthed ninja who dreams of becoming the leader of his village (the Hokage) who protects everyone, despite the fact that he is one of the crappiest ninjas of all time. Furthermore, the entire village hates him because he is the vessel for a demon fox that once wrought destruction across the village.

Naruto is your typical shonen anime with just enough little tweaks to make it different to really get you interested. For one the main character is a loud-mouthed, overconfident loser, who is outshined by almost all the supporting characters. It is his heart and determination which ends up winning you over. The supporting cast of Naruto is so rich and diverse that no matter who you are, you will find someone to love, whether it’s Sasuke, Naruto’s prodigious rival whose sole goal is to murder his brother, or Rock Lee, who has no powers but through hard work is one of the best hand-to-hand combatants in the show. No one likes Sakura though.

The face you make when your body is at the office but you would rather be anywhere else

Naruto can get kind of tropey, but since these are gateway anime suggestions, you really won’t be used to the tropes just yet. The balance of humour, drama, character development and action is handled with finesse. Naruto is legitimately one of the funniest anime out there. I mean, where else can you find an anime where the main character wins one of his fights by farting out of nervousness?

It’s not all fun and games though, because the show frequently reminds you what a dark, treacherous world these children live in, sometimes being forced to kill each other to survive. That being said, while Naruto is a great anime to get started on, the quality can kind of dip as it goes on and this is in reference to both the stories and the animation. The music is top notch throughout though, but in my opinion the series peaks at the “Rescue Sasuke” story arc, and Shippuden, the sequel follow-up, never quite captures the magic of those early years. However, if it’s just to get started, Naruto is perfect.

1. Hunter X Hunter (2011)

What? Why are you all looking at me like that? Is there something in my teeth?

Hunter X Hunter is everything Naruto is and so much more. I only just recently watched this anime myself, but boy do I wish I’d seen it sooner. For years, I held of on watching it for the stupidest of reasons—I hated the main character’s outfit. Yes, yes, I know. I am a fool in a man’s shoes, but better late than never, right?

HxH does everything so well. Crisp, clean, consistently great animation, a cast of unique characters with some of the best character depth and development I have ever seen in the genre, amazingly executed and choreographed fights, and storylines that force you to guess what’s going to happen and then prove you wrong every single time. This one has it all.

Papa can you hear me…

Another great thing that HxH does is that it switched focus to different characters and their journeys, so you never end up with main character fatigue, something that is very frequent with these types of anime. So, we start off following Gon and his quest to become a Hunter so that he can meet his father who abandoned him as a baby. And then, a few arcs in, we switch focus to the enigmatic Kurapika as he seeks out revenge on the troupe that murdered his clan. I found myself getting more and more invested with each episode and storyline.

Also, the world building in this anime is simply on another level. Small things introduced early on in the story will often come back to pay huge dividends much later on and will leave your jaw on the floor in amazement. I can say with full confidence that even though this anime starts off deceptively similar to every other shonen battle anime out there, you will not be able to guess where the story is going at all. This anime managed to surprise me, an anime veteran, at every turn. And that’s what makes it, in my opinion, the perfect gateway anime.

So that’s my list. Which series would you recommend as a gateway anime? And you can check out some more anime content below:

Death Note Anime Review in 4 Slices
Top 10 Rurouni Kenshin (Samurai X) Fights

Wayne loves to complain, and that was an unintentional rhyme. When I’m not watching movies, TV, anime or trophy hunting on PS4, you can usually find me deep in my thoughts preparing my next scathing review of a bad movie. I think Zack Snyder’s take on superheroes is terrible and that The Quick and the Dead is actually a decent movie. I re-watch Death Note every year. Unlike the other fine writers on this site, I’m not a critic, but I can definitely Rock a review…(Read More)